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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Florida Education Association calls SB 736 unconstitutional

From The St. Petersburg Times Grade Book

by Jeff Solochek

The Florida Education Association has filed a lawsuit today in Tallahassee contending that Senate Bill 736, the first bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law, violates teachers' constitutional rights to collectively bargain.

The new law, the organization claims, limits those rights by taking such actions as prohibiting the use of degrees in setting salary schedules in most instances and mandating base salary levels for performance salary schedules. Such actions don't jibe with Article I, Section 6 of the state constitution, the group alleges, and must be thrown out.

"The provisions of SB 736 radically transform the teaching profession – and not for the better,” Cory Williams, a middle school social studies teacher from Sarasota County, said in an FEA release. “The expertise and knowledge of teachers have been ignored throughout this process and our constitutional rights have been trampled. We must turn to the court to tell the Legislature and the governor that they cannot simply take away the rights that are embedded in the Florida Constitution.”

FEA president Andy Ford and lawyer Ron Meyer are holding a press conference in Tallahassee now, and will brief reporters by telephone later. Carolyn Lofton, a kindergarten teacher at Skycrest Elementary in Pinellas County, is one of the plaintiffs. More details as we get them.

UPDATE: In a news conference, Meyer said the FEA is not asking the court to stop new evaluations and other aspects of SB 736 in their tracks while the suit progresses. The case should move swiftly enough, he said, so that "we can undo the damage that has been done." In the meantime, Meyer said it would be nice if the state Department of Education would lift its Sept. 30 deadline for evaluation models.

Meyer also stressed that the suit "is not a repudiation of merit pay" - just an effort to get it done right.

Jeb Bush's education foundation sent out a statement criticizing the union and the lawsuit:

"Every day, teachers across Florida are equipping Sunshine State students with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve success. These teachers deserve to be recognized for their effectiveness and dedication with professional level compensation. SB 736 modernizes Florida’s teaching profession and provides teachers, principals and school leaders the data they need to identify and reward Florida’s excellent teachers. This law benefits teachers and students. Today’s action by the teachers’ union, once again proves they care more about protecting political power than promoting a dynamic, highly-skilled workforce of educators.”

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